One of the biggest obstacles in understanding Russian foreign policy of late for NATO is that it still seems a bit too tied to American assumptions. There seems to be an element of purposeful animosity in the way Russia is viewed, analyzed, and engaged, especially at the so-called expert level and most prominently within the now Republican-controlled United States Congress.
Perhaps one of the worst examples of this ‘analytical animosity’ comes with the over-reliance on ‘insider knowledge’ without actually vetting the source’s objectivity. As we will see below, what would be automatically deemed a horribly flawed research structure in academia, full of selection bias, too often ends up powering the opinions of major decision-makers in Washington DC and is subsequently transferred to NATO thinking.
None of this is meant to say NATO, or the United States in turn, shouldn’t be critical of Russian motivations or Russian interests. In many areas we are naturally pure rivals, let alone the long intense history of competition between them. I am simply critical of the foreign policy hubris America so often exhibits and ultimately passes on to NATO. I offer this not as a plea for diplomatic humility or being a better global partner: on the contrary, I simply fear the presumptuousness of NATO posturing comes off in such a way that makes NATO look silly rather than intimidating. That is the real problem. Talking the talk without ever walking the walk with Russia serves no purpose other than to undermine your own self-perception of impressiveness. To wit: western commentators need to stop crowing about ‘Russian exceptionalism.’ There is a humiliating irony being dangerously missed when they speak of such things. To the Russians the only other country in the world with a richer, deeper, and more pronounced sense of exceptionalism is the United States and its affiliated organizations like NATO. American sides criticizing Russia for exceptionalism is like the Great White telling the Bull Shark not to be so aggressive in the water.
I believe this is part of the reason you can detect such frustration and irritation in the statements and positions of Putin and Lavrov, who sometimes almost seem exasperated by the situation, fighting off a narrative they really aren’t interested in but are constantly being asked on the world stage to address. This is especially apparent when the ridiculous subject of Ukraine joining NATO comes up. Lavrov stated during the Welsh summit that NATO should avoid ‘derailing’ the process both Russia and Ukraine are trying to hammer out. Worse still is how incredibly cruel this line of argument is from NATO towards Ukraine: there is no chance that Ukraine will be invited to join the group. While Obama says officially to the microphones that all options will remain open for global security and peace, France and Germany are both formally opposed to offering membership to Ukraine. As long as that is the case, Obama’s comments are just empty gestures, more a tease to Ukraine than a deterrent to Russia. Does anyone in their right mind think Russia worries more about microphone side comments from the American President compared to official French and German policy when it concerns NATO?
Russia’s actions within, around, and about Ukraine are no doubt self-serving, in pursuit of its own priorities, and with only a modicum of consideration as to what is in the long-term interests of Ukraine. More pertinently, it couches those actions with declarations of constitutionality, stability, normalization, and international assistance. And in doing so Russia, in its own mind and with some foreign policy evidence, thinks it is acting as the United States has countless times in countless arenas over countless years, thereby making any NATO concern or protest over its actions irrelevant and hypocritical in its eyes. This is the true nature of REAL foreign policy power to Russia: to do as you please while getting everyone else to drag their feet and ultimately do nothing. Such old-school realist POWER has not left the global stage, despite all the good NATO intentions to create greater adherence to international law.
Perhaps NATO’s best strategy would be to deftly engineer a path not beholden to American ‘Cold War Triumphalism.’ In basic terms, since Russia lost the Cold War it was and should be treated as a de facto defeated nation. This triumphalism has arguably never left American decision-making power, given that the advent of this attitude began with President Bill Clinton and has lasted through three presidencies (two Democrat, one Republican), totaling six terms and 24 years. In other words, the American attitudinal perspective toward Russia has witnessed a literal generation passing where the United States has felt justified in selective cooperation, one-way bargaining, uneven playing fields and reluctance on its own part to bury the ghosts of the past because said ghosts give it a decided political advantage. But that political advantage hurts NATO relevance if it is made to adhere to the same attitude. It is clear the United States does not seem to understand that the geostrategic prom queen in the end isn’t really a queen, after all, and on the global dance floor there is always more than one self-professed belle of the ball. NATO needs to be the emcee of this dance, rather than the man stuck holding the American prom queen’s corsage. The former role gives it great relevance. The latter gives it none. The choice, hopefully, will be up to NATO.
The real problem NATO must try to avoid is that too many powerful decision-makers in the West feel a bit bamboozled and outplayed. They feel, rightly or wrongly, as if they have ended up with proverbial diplomatic egg on their faces and they don’t like it. Even worse, they cannot stand the possibility that this game of chicken ended with only one round and no opportunity to regain the upper hand. Thus, it really isn’t about how horrible it was for Russia to ‘annex’ Crimea (with Crimean consent) and do it basically without any violence. What is most horrible to these strategists still stuck in and/or pining for the return of a Cold War environment full of purpose and dire circumstances is that they won’t get the chance to beat Russia back or deliver a diplomatic defeat of the same intensity that they feel they just themselves received. Thus, this situation cannot just be about Crimea. Russia must not be satisfied with this as the end game. There simply must be another shoe to drop or chess piece to be moved. Because…just because: because Russians aren’t supposed to be diplomatically agile and astute. And they most certainly cannot be strategically deft and subtle. At least, not when they are compared to their counterparts in the West, who think Russians are rash; Russians are emotional; Russians are capricious; Russians are sneaky; and quite frankly, Russians are a bit daft. All of these things they can be because all of these things suit the players at the other end of the chess board. And for this very simple and seemingly minor reason alone, Russia is far better off letting Crimea be its one and only move on the board and then chuckle dementedly as its rivals worry about an ‘expansionism’ that is not coming. What victory could be better than checkmate and confounding your opponents who had previously thought they had completely understood your psyche, methods, objectives, and purpose?
If NATO can begin to engage Russia in a manner that recognizes and embraces this perception of reality, then it will have a strategic relevance that will go far beyond the United States, the European Union, or Ukraine. For it will be the only organization on the board seeing Russia as the Russians themselves see it. Once you have that vision there will be far many more diplomatic moves available.
The rise of Eurasia: Geopolitical advantages and historic pitfalls
Asian players are proving to be conceptually and bureaucratically better positioned in the 21st century’s Great Game that involves tectonic geopolitical shifts with the emergence of what former Portuguese Europe minister Bruno Macaes terms the fusion of Europe and Asia into a “supercontinent.”
Yet, in contrast to the United States, Asian players despite approaching Europe and Asia as one political, albeit polarized and disorganized entity populated by widely differing and competing visions, may find that their historic legacies work against them.
Writing in The National Interest, US Naval College national security scholar Nikolas K. Gvosdev argued that the United States, for example, was blinded to the shifts by the State Department’s classification of Russia as part of Europe, its lumping of Central Asia together with Pakistan and India and the Pentagon’s association of the region with the Arab world and Iran.
“The (State Department’s) continued inclusion of Russia within the diplomatic confines of a larger European bureau has intellectually limited assessments about Russia’s position in the world by framing Russian action primarily through a European lens. Not only does this undercount Russia’s ability to be a major player in the Middle East, South Asia and East Asia, it has also, in my view, tended to overweight the importance of the Baltic littoral to Russian policy,” Mr. Gvosdev said.
He warned that the US government’s geographical classification of Central Asia, Eurasia’s heartland has “relegated it to second-tier status in terms of U.S. attention and priorities.”
US failure to get ahead of the tectonic shifts in global geopolitics contrasts starkly with the understanding of Central Asian nations that they increasingly exist in an integrated, interconnected region that cannot isolate itself from changes enveloping it.
That understanding is reflected in a report by the Astana Club that brings together prominent political figures, diplomats, and experts from the Great Game’s various players under the auspices of Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Entitled, ‘Toward a Greater Eurasia: How to Build a Common Future?,’ the report warns that the Eurasian supercontinent needs to anticipate the Great Game’s risks that include mounting tensions between the United States and China; global trade wars; arms races; escalating conflict in the greater Middle East; deteriorating relations between Russia and the West; a heating up of contained European conflicts such as former Yugoslavia; rising chances of separatism and ethnic/religious conflict; and environmental degradation as well as technological advances.
The report suggested that the risks were enhanced by the fragility of the global system with the weakening of multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and NATO.
Messrs. Nazarbayev, Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan may be better positioned to understand the shifts given that they govern territories at the heart of the emerging Eurasian supercontinent and see it as an integral development rooted in their countries’ histories.
Then Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu made as much clear in 2013. “The last century was only a parenthesis for us. We will close that parenthesis. We will do so without going to war, or calling anyone an enemy, without being disrespectful to any border; we will again tie Sarajevo to Damascus, Benghazi to Erzurum to Batumi. This is the core of our power. These may look like different countries to you, but Yemen and Skopje were part of the same country a hundred and ten years ago as were Erzurum and Benghazi,” Mr.Davutoglu said drawing a picture of a modern day revival of the Ottoman empire.
Mr. Erdogan has taken that ambition a step further by increasingly expanding it to the Turkic and Muslim world.
At its core, Erdogan’s vision, according to Eurasia scholar Igor Torbakov, is built on the notion that the world is divided into distinct civilizations. And upon that foundation rise three pillars: 1) a just world order can only be a multipolar one; 2) no civilization has the right to claim a hegemonic position in the international system; and 3) non-Western civilizations (including those in Turkey and Russia) are in the ascendant. In addition, anti-Western sentiment and self-assertiveness are crucial elements of this outlook.
Expressing that sentiment, Turkish bestselling author and Erdogan supporter Alev Alati quipped: “We are the ones who have adopted Islam as an identity but have become so competent in playing chess with Westerners that we can beat them. We made this country that lacked oil, gold and gas what it is now. It was not easy, and we won’t give it up so quickly.”
The Achilles Heel, however, of Mr. Putin and Mr. Erdogan’s Eurasianism is the fact that its geographies are populated by former empires like the Ottomans and Russia whose post-imperial notions of national identity remain contested and drive its leaders to define national unity as state unity, control the flow of information, and repress alternative views expressions of dissent.
Turkey and Russia still “see themselves as empires, and, as a general rule, an empire’s political philosophy is one of universalism and exceptionalism. In other words, empires don’t have friends – they have either enemies or dependencies,” said Mr. Torbakov, the Eurasia scholar, or exist in what Russian strategists term “imperial or geopolitical solitude.”
Mr. Erdogan’s vision of a modern-day Ottoman empire encompasses the Turkic and Muslim world. Different groups of Russian strategists promote concepts of Russia as a state that has to continuously act as an empire or as a unique “state civilization” devoid of expansionist ambition despite its premise of a Russian World that embraces the primacy of Russian culture as well as tolerance for non-Russian cultures. Both notions highlight the pitfalls of their nations’ history and Eurasianism.
Both Mr. Erdogan and Russia’s vision remain controversial. In Mr. Erdogan’s case it is the Muslim more than the Turkic world that is unwilling to accept Turkish leadership unchallenged with Saudi Arabia leading the charge and Turkish-Iranian relations defined by immediate common interests rather than shared strategic thinking.
Similarly, post-Soviet states take issue with Russia’s notion of the primacy of its culture. Beyond the Russian-Ukrainian conflict over the annexation of Crimea and Moscow’s support for Russian-speaking rebels in the east of the country, Ukraine emphasized its rejection of Russian cultural primacy with this month’s creation of a Ukrainian Orthodox Church independent of its Russian counterpart.
Earlier, Ukraine’s parliament passed a law in September 2017 establishing Ukrainian rather than Russian as the language of instruction in schools and colleges. The law stipulated that educational institutions could teach courses in a second language, provided it was an official language of the European Union. National minorities were guaranteed the right to study in Ukrainian as well as their minority language.
Similarly, Kazakhstan, the Eurasian nation par excellence, shifted from Cyrillic to Latin script.
“Russia’s influence (in Central Asia) has been largely mythologized, and its role in both national and regional security has not been properly and honestly discussed. Different fears and phobias still influence the decision-making process, including those over Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, its annexation of Crimea, the concept of the ‘Russian World’ as a pillar of its national identity, and its soft power,” said Kazakh Central Asia scholar Anna Gussarova.
Ukraine may put a dent in the Russian World’s attractivity, but it does not amount to a body blow.
Ms. Gussarova cautioned that while Central Asian elites may recognize the risks involved in embracing Russian primacy, the region’s public remains far more aligned with Russian culture, at least linguistically.
“Whereas the expert community, which is supposed to shape public opinion, uses the English-language platforms Facebook and Twitter, the general public relies on Russian-language social media. This dichotomy underscores the limitations of any effort by the government and affiliated experts to shape public perceptions. At the same time, this gap shows greater public support for Russia and its activities, which makes nation building and language issues difficult and sensitive,” Ms. Gussarova said.
Diplomatic Defense of the Islamic Republic of Iran
The Islamic Republic of Iran considers defense diplomacy to strengthen the efforts of the defense sector in the supine area in the process of rebuilding the country’s defense base, which has been used as a new concept and has been emphasized in the formulation of a national defense and national security strategy.
Defense diplomacy is part of the national power of a country that, along with foreign policy, forms the source of power to enhance the capacity of action and action of a country in foreign relations. This diplomacy will not only monitor the application of diplomatic policy, but also guarantee the sharing of diplomacy in defense policy.
Indeed, the link between defense and military activities with diplomatic activities can be a powerful interconnected tool of national power. On the other hand, the use of defense diplomacy will be effective both during peace and war as well as in preventing conflicts and even using the capacities of the international environment to strengthen the capabilities and effects of wartime time (including the provision of armed forces’ readiness).
Accordingly, defense diplomacy for Iran is a strategy to strengthen the efforts of the defense sector in the area of suppression in the process of reconstruction of the country’s prosperity. Therefore, the achievement of vast capabilities in defense diplomacy requires understanding of the periphery, deep understanding of Iran’s position, theorizing and conceptualization to create a dialogue to strengthen the country’s defense capabilities and capabilities, which inevitably has to rely on global domination and the common discourse in this area is the knowledge of global politics.
In this context, Iran is also considered to be a regional power that has historically had an environmental role, with Iran’s defensive capabilities growing somewhat after the revolution. But this cannot be considered as the only component of enhancing regional defense capabilities of Iran. Because of the cross-border security conflicts in Iran’s regional environment, the use of defense treaties is the most desirable for Iran.
Defense diplomacy is a mechanism that plays an important role in achieving the goals of the country’s specific security or foreign policy. The goal of the defense diplomacy is to create the desired political, national and international conditions for the preservation and expansion of the national and vital values of the country against actual and potential enemies. In this regard, the realization of Iran’s defense strategy within the framework of the defense guide requires a combination of two hard and soft areas.
Defense cooperation in Iran is based on the foreign policy framework of the country. Foreign policy determines the type and scope of political and even economic and military cooperation of a country with other countries. In such a case, the objectives of defense diplomacy are in the general objectives of foreign policy, and defense diplomacy is a subset of foreign policy.
Iran’s defense guidelines are organized with a value-oriented approach and belief in the power and power of “universal civil defense”. The foundations of this paper are “Religious Beliefs and Beliefs”, “The Supreme Command and Controls of the Total Power”, “The Soul of Independence, Self Esteem and Self-Recognition”, “Modern Technologies”, “The Climatic, Geopolitical, and Geostrategic Conditions of the Country”, “Defense Experience” Sacred “,” world experiences “,” the ideas and theories of the defense and security elites “and” the idea of a future war “. Its basic principles are “preserving the values of the Islamic Revolution,” “preventing any armed conflict and armed conflict,” and “preparing the state to defend itself and using the armed forces to defend vital interests.”
The realization of Iran’s defense strategy within the framework of defense guidelines requires a combination of two hard and soft areas. Hence, a part of the means of production in the Ministry of Defense is of a strict nature, the production and supply of which constitutes one of the major barriers to deterrence, and the production of power tools and promotion of Iran’s defense capabilities can be considered in this area. Another part of the threat management tool is the software approach. In this regard, the development of soft technology and the movement of defense diplomacy can be considered as a necessity to achieve soft deterrence, because both deterrents have a complementary role. Regarding these issues, establishing a link between “military industries”, “service industries” and “defense diplomacy” has provided the ground for promoting the maximum national defense capability.
The activation of the issue of defense diplomacy in the Islamic Republic of Iran is an important feature of the defense sector’s activities in the process of reconstruction of the defense base of the country. This reconstruction has two basic infrastructure and superstructure. In the infrastructure sector, structural changes and increasing the function of defense industry organizations and hardware upgrades can be highlighted today, which has led to the pride and glory of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In the superstructure, investments can be made in the field of research and development of defense studies and the activation of defense diplomacy. In the past, the Ministry of Defense, as an armed forces support, was recognized only in two areas of military-defense and welfare, and in fact its third role in supporting the diplomacy of the armed forces and the significant role of the country’s defense and security policy was neglected. The decade of the year 2001 is the beginning of the attention and action of the Defense Ministry in this field.
On the other hand, the ultimate goal of the armed forces in the twenty years of the country is “deterrence.” The main function of defense diplomacy can be seen in the realization and implementation of the deterrence strategy and its application in the interaction of the political unit with other units of the international system. Accordingly, deterrence strategy is considered as the most important principle in defining the scope of defense diplomacy and military and defense strategy. Defending diplomacy, with an emphasis on the prevention element, provides the conditions that, prior to any confrontation; the political unit can achieve its own interests and goals and, in the best of all, divide power in various fields.
Generally speaking, defense diplomacy, as one of the policy areas of the state, has an important role in achieving the goals of the armed forces by creating favorable political conditions for the preservation and development of national and national values against enemies. Rapid and ongoing progress in the kidneys the social, economic, political, social, cultural, and military community in our day requires the planner to identify and validate the variables that can bring the system and its sub-systems in the future in any way and to any other the amount affected. Planning, if successful, should have a look and a long look to the future. A prospect of defense diplomacy makes it possible for Iran will assess its current situation with future demands and plan accordingly for the future to achieve the desired regional and strategic objectives.
A new world system, or a world without a hegemon
The state of the world and, frequently, the course of history depended on the foundation on which peace on Earth was based – either on international balance or on omnipotence of another hegemon. Today, the Atlantic circles of different levels have adopted another propagandist mantra: international relations would be disrupted catastrophically or, worse still, slide into global chaos if the United States moves away (or forced to move away) from global domination.
We have already learned from history that any world order is relative and comparatively short. Starting with Antiquity, the best minds have been dreaming about an ideal world order, perpetual peace on Earth and harmonious relations between states. Reality was and remains different. The history of the world order was written by the bloodshed in big and small wars, the “game of the thrones” for domination, the never-ending replacement of leaders, triumphs of victors, and tragedies of the vanquished.
One cannot but wonder: how come that after so many years of deliberations mankind has not arrived at a common opinion? The variety of historical situations, relevant examples and rich historical experience means that there is no “magic formula” of an ideal world order accepted by all.
World history has clearly demonstrated that peace established under the aegis of a state that claims hegemony is never firm and never long-lived because the potential hegemon pursues plundering and occupation of its neighbors and rivals. The Roman Empire that, having defeated Carthage, knew no rivals in the pre-Christian world but nevertheless collapsed several centuries later under the burden of internal contradictions and external wars.
THE EUROPEAN BALANCE established at the Vienna Congress in 1815 by the powers that had defeated Napoleon turned out to be amazingly long-lived: for nearly 100 years, the Old World lived in peace. It looked as if the Europeans, who still called the tune in world politics, had finally found the key to a firm world order and entered the new age brimming with optimism. They learned the lesson of their past: balance of power should be maintained while disagreements should be resolved on time by diplomatic means.
FOREIGN POLICY of the United States changed to a much greater extent than the foreign policies of all states that had fought in the war.
According to American historiography, the results of World War II transformed the United States, a prewar regional power, into a global power.
In retrospect, the Soviet-American bipolarity in the nuclear age looked as a sustainable variant of the world order despite the risks and the situations in which mankind came too close to a nuclear catastrophe (during the Caribbean Crisis of 1962).
The Cold War was buried with a lot of pomp; America’s foreign policy acquired such new pillars as triumphalism, the liberal world order, the “Washington Consensus,” and globalization under the U.S. aegis.
Very much like many times before, the victor immediately acquired a crowd of enthusiastic supporters convinced that the “benevolent” American guidance would make the world a much safer place.
Very soon, however, many of them realized that the “benevolent hegemon” was in fact egotistical and unmanageable. The old truth – power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely – perfectly fitted domestic and foreign policies and was reconfirmed in the unipolar world. At the early stages (especially under the Clinton Administration), the United States had demonstrated moderation and the readiness to rely on “soft power.” With time, however, Washington was consolidating its domination and tightening its policies.
At the turn of the 21st century and very much in line with the logic of politics based on strength, the United States started using military force in the Balkans, Afghanistan, in the Middle East, and North Africa under the pretext of establishing liberal order and relying on the right to humanitarian intervention.
As could be expected, the unipolar world was becoming increasingly vulnerable: America’s military, financial and economic capabilities proved to be inadequate to keep it safe and intact; meanwhile, new rivaling power centers appeared and were consolidating their strength.
WITH THE HEGEMON prepared to take into consideration the interests of its partners and to trim, to a certain extent, its ambitions for the sake of greater aims shared by all humanity, unipolarity could have developed into a foundation of a new sustainable world order. However, this is an ideal and, therefore, imaginative picture. In real life, the winner is never inclined toward self-restriction; it is guided by the right of the strongest that by definition “takes all.”
Today, nearly thirty years after the Soviet Union’s disintegration, when sovereign Russia as its descendant replaced it on the international arena, we have accumulated enough facts to say that Washington’s shortsighted approach to its relations with Russia was a grave strategic error the repercussions of which have not yet been fully comprehended.
THE 21ST CENTURY is neither an apotheosis of the unipolar world nor triumph of the liberal world order predicted by Washington when the Cold War became history. The U.S. has obviously overestimated its potential and underestimated the progress of other players involved in world politics.
The end of a certain epoch, that at the dawn of American history Franklin compared with sunset, is not the end of the world.
First published in our partner International Affairs
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